On Thursday evening, Minister of Information Communication and Technology, Postal and Courier Services, finally found the nerves to reverse a controversial and divisive hike in data charges, that had caused so much discomfort in the country as people failed to come to terms with the prohibitive prices they were expected to pay to access internet on their mobile gadgets. Postal and Telecommunication Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe which ideally should have stood with the consumers was found wanting because, they were actually the major culprits in this drama as they for once dumped their roles to side with mobile network operators.
The unjustifiable tariffs caused a nation-wide outrage, with consumers voicing their disapproval of the new data pricing regime. While the people felt hard done, POTRAZ was nowhere, infact they were sticking to their guns justifying that mobile network operators had made the request to have tariffs hiked, but since when did the telecommunications regulatory body began going against consumers.
Our conclusion is that POTRAZ has neglected its mandate in fact it is working against its own call of duty which to our understanding is to balance the interests of mobile network operators and consumers.
As the country’s telecoms regulator, one of POTRAZ’s mandate is to promote innovation. However, it appears in this case that the regulator is way offside when it comes to executing this mandate since all the upcoming players who are desperately trying to use the Internet space for various innovations will no longer afford to do so. This is mainly because the Internet space is now almost a no go area considering the exorbitant charges already pegged by the likes of Econet.
Also, POTRAZ in terms of Section 4 of the Postal and Telecommunications Act Chapter 12:05, the regulator has a duty to ensure sustainable and consistent provision of domestic & international telecommunications services which include affordable voice & data pricing. But like a bolt from the blue, the regulator recently gave the nation a rude awakening by issuing a directive to mobile network operators to hike data tariffs. If the government had not intervened, the regulator could have proved this mandate null and void since the telecommunications services were already beyond reach for the consumer.
The government might have saved the subscribers for now but the regulator has proved that it cannot be trusted in the future since it may approve something similar where the consumers will be deprived of their rights at the expense of the service providers.